This is a digital story I was commissioned to create to document the University of Manchester’s Art Science Collaboration projects in 2015:
On the 15th of March 2015, 51 undergraduate students, on the 2nd year of a Mental Health Nursing degree filed into The University of Manchester’s John Thaw Studio Theatre in the Martin Harris Centre.
The students had come to watch a play called IN BLOOM; invited by their lecturer, Dr Tommy Dickinson of The University of Manchester School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work. Tommy was also the executive producer and medical consultant for IN BLOOM.
In the play, a young man called Nathan who is hearing voices, has just been transferred to a secure hospital from prison. Nathan sits on a chair on the stage and tells his story as though he is talking to a nurse. He gradually becomes less coherent as his contact with reality lessens and his distress increases.
Tommy decided to bring theatre into nursing education to see if live performance could provide a more realistic and personal view of an experience of psychosis than a written case study.
Kallam Doherty a student who attended the event, explained that written case studies are “not a patch” on being faced with someone who is experiencing psychosis because:
“There is no such thing as a prescription of what somebody with psychosis would be like.”
Tuning into the unpredictable nature of a patient’s ability to communicate is one of the many skills that student nurses need to practice.
After the performance the students were given the opportunity to ask questions of the actor whilst he was in character. As well as practicing what they would actually ask, this provided a space for students to think creatively about the experience of psychosis.
Emma Johnson, who’s interest in the creative aspects of these kind of experiences is what drew her into mental health in the first place, wanted to ask:
“Do you think these creatures are a part of you, or separate from you?”
Not something she thought she would have the time to explore with a real patient.
Taking part in the project made Emma reflect on “the need to help patients have a greater understanding and acceptance of their own experiences”.
Another student was emphatic: “I felt as though I was the only one in the room with Nathan, just like on a ward round.”
Focusing on Nathan’s story made Kallam think about how nurses need to balance empathetic listening with risk management.
Tommy plans to continue the project. This group of students will meet the character, Nathan again in the third year of their degree. Twists are expected.
Tommy was keen to take part in the art science colloborations because he saw an opportunity:
“Nursing is an art and a science and the art bit gets neglected. We need to ensure that doesn’t happen and we need to put the art back in.”
Tommy is writing up the project in the hope that his findings can be used to improve nursing education.
A Shared Learning Experience
The mental health nursing students were not the only beneficiaries of this experience, the audience also comprised of 14 drama students taking a second year module called the A-Z of Applied Theatre.
Dr Simon Parry of The University of Manchester School of Art, Language and Culture, explained that it provided a perfect opportunity for the drama students to observe the area that they are interested in.
It is always useful for drama students to see live performance but this was particularly good for this group because it is about how theatre can be used in education to explore difficult issues.
The drama students had the opportunity to watch the nurses ask professionally orientated questions and to think about how to talk to people from different professional perspectives.
Simon said that one of the benefits of the collaboration had been the chance to engage in a series of discussions with Tommy about how to engage with issues about mental health in teaching.
“…without any clinical background you can be a bit scared of engaging with these topics. Difficult for students difficult for public, so there is reassurance in doing it with somebody who has much greater experience of dealing with these issues. Tommy has a deep interest in theatre and performance. I am beginning to see how he works in different ways. It is really useful for me.”
Tommy and Simon are planning to continue collaborating on a number of other projects.